Friday, October 29, 2004

Revealed: War has cost 100,000 Iraqi lives - The Independent (Primary source: John Hopkins Uni.

Revealed: War has cost 100,000 Iraqi lives
By Jeremy Laurance and Colin Brown
29 October 2004
The first scientific study of the human cost of the Iraq war suggests that at least 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives since their country was invaded in March 2003.
More than half of those who died were women and children killed in air strikes, researchers say. Previous estimates have put the Iraqi death toll at around 10,000 - ten times the 1,000 members of the British, American and multi-national forces who have died so far. But the study, published in The Lancet, suggested that Iraqi casualties could be as much as 100 times the coalition losses. It was also savagely critical of the failure by coalition forces to count Iraqi casualties.
The figures provoked a furious response last night in West-minster. Clare Short, the former cabinet minister who resigned over the war, said: "It is really horrifying. When will Tony Blair stop saying it is all beneficial for the Iraqi people since Saddam Hussein has gone? How many more lives are to be taken? It is no wonder, given this tragic death toll, that the resistance to the occupation is growing.
"We have all relied on Iraqi body counts from media reports. That is clearly an under-estimate and this shows that it was a very big under-estimate. It is truly dreadful. Tony Blair talks simplistically about it getting better in Iraq. These figures prove it is just an illusion."
MPs said the assault on Fallujah expected after the US presidential election next Tuesday would add to the growing death toll among civilians. The figures are certain to provoke fresh demands at the Commons next week for Mr Blair to avoid further civilian deaths.
Alan Simpson, a member of Labour Against the War, said: "Iraq has not seen this scale of slaughter since its war with Iran. At some point, the slaughter of civilians in the name of peace has to become a crime of war. This is not a matter of indifference but criminality. These figures are horrific, but it is a scandal that the world remains silent."
A spokesperson for the Stop the War Coalition said: "The number of dead has exceeded even our worst fears. This war has been shown to be based on lies and to be illegal. It now turns out to be one of the bloodiest in modern times. We must withdraw our troops now and allow the Iraqis to run their own country."
Public health experts from the United States and Iraq who carried out a survey of 1,000 households in 33 randomly selected neighbourhoods of the country in September say that heart attacks, strokes and chronic illness were the main causes of death before the invasion. Afterwards, violence was the main cause of death. Violent deaths were reported from 15 of the 33 neighbourhoods and the risk was 58 times higher in the period after the invasion than before it.
Les Roberts of the Bloom-berg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, said: "Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess
deaths, and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths." The Lancet, which published the research in its online edition yesterday, said it was "a remarkable piece of work by a courageous team of scientists", which had been completed under testing circumstances.
More households in more neighbourhoods would have improved the precision of the findings but only at "an enormous and unacceptable risk to the team of interviewers who gathered the data".
Richard Horton, the editor, said: "Despite these challenges, its central observation - namely that civilian mortality since the war has risen due to the effect of aerial weaponry - is convincing. This result requires an urgent political and military response if the confidence of ordinary Iraqis in the mostly American-British occupation is to be restored."
The researchers recruited seven Iraqi team members who were willing to risk their lives to interview households about deaths that occurred from January 2002 to March 2003 and from March 2003 to September 2004. In the 988 households visited, which were randomly selected, there were 46 deaths in the 14.6 months before the invasion and 142 deaths in the 17.8 months after it.
Of the 142 deaths, half (73) were caused by violence. More than two-thirds of these violent deaths - 52 - happened in the Fallujah area, scene of the heaviest fighting. The researchers say this makes Fallujah a "statistical outlier" which may not be representative of the rest of Iraq. They therefore excluded it from their calculations.
The researchers are savagely critical of the US General Tommy Franks for his widely quoted remark that "we don't do body counts". They say that the Geneva Convention requires occupying forces to protect the civilian population, and add the fact that more than half of the deaths caused by them were women and children is "cause for concern".
The Lancet said it had received the study at the beginning of October and it had been "extensively peer-reviewed, revised and edited". It had been fast-tracked to publication "because of its importance to the evolving security situation in Iraq".

NASA Scientist: Bush Stifles Global Warming Evidence - Associate Press - October 27, 2004

NASA Scientist: Bush Stifles Global Warming Evidence By Chuck SchoffnerAssociated Pressposted: 27 October 200412:53 pm ET
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Bush administration is trying to stifle scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming in an effort to keep the public uninformed, a NASA scientist said Tuesday night.
"In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now," James E. Hansen told a University of Iowa audience.
Hansen is director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and has twice briefed a task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney on global warming.
Hansen said the administration wants to hear only scientific results that "fit predetermined, inflexible positions." Evidence that would raise concerns about the dangers of climate change is often dismissed as not being of sufficient interest to the public.
"This, I believe, is a recipe for environmental disaster."
Hansen said the scientific community generally agrees that temperatures on Earth are rising because of the greenhouse effect — emissions of carbon dioxide and other materials into the atmosphere that trap heat.
These rising temperatures, scientists believe, could cause sea levels to rise and trigger severe environmental consequences, he said.
Hansen said such warnings are consistently suppressed, while studies that cast doubt on such interpretations receive favorable treatment from the administration.
He also said reports that outline potential dangers of global warming are edited to make the problem appear less serious. "This process is in direct opposition to the most fundamental precepts of science," he said.
White House science adviser John H. Marburger III has denied charges that the administration refuses to accept the reality of climate change, noting that President Bush pointed out in a 2001 speech that greenhouse gases have increased substantially in the past 200 years.
Last December, the administration said it was planning a five-year program to research global warming and climate change.
Hansen said he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a government employee, and paid his own way for the Iowa appearance. He described himself as moderately conservative, but said he will vote for John Kerry in the presidential election.
"He certainly is not in denial of the existence of climate change problems," Hansen said.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Truth and scepticism

When a social scientist, such as an economist or a sociologist, claims to have discovered a "natural law" of social behavior, it is common sense to say that the credibility of their theories depend on how well it describes the real world.
The real world is, off-course, all that we experience, all sort of empirical evidence.
It did happen that such "social scientists" were branded as genius because their theories were proved to be right through the observation of social events.
For example, the economist Milton Friedman claimed that the relationship between inflation (increase in price levels, increase in cost-of-living) and employment (more and more jobs) was wrong. A few years later, in the 1970s, parts of the world did experience both high unemployment rates and high inflation. The economist had become the new genius (the previous one was Keynes). Many analysts said that his theories correctly discribed "the truth".
However, a few years later, the relationship between inflation and employment came back and the controversy remains unsettled.
What does happen in economics also happens in politics. The neo-conservatives promoted the idea that the USA should be actively involved militarily "to help spread ideas of democracy and freedom". Their ideas did make sense for a while after September 11, then suddenly, these ideas look incredibly foolish under the light of Iraq's quagmire.
Throughout the history of the world, social conventions keep changing. Is there such things as "absolute truth" or "eternal truth"?

Sir Karl Popper (1902-1994) claimed that scientists had to "falsify" their own theories all the time so they can make the difference between what is completely wrong and what does seem to be true. As a matter of fact, almost all sorts of "truth" becomes one day challenged by some empirical evidence.
Whereas some "believers" may argue that such views are dangerous as "moral relativism", there is a much more positive way to describe "scepticism".
Scepticism is necessary as we can only experience a limited amount of events in a particular context at a particular point of time. Expecting our "believes" to be always true in any context for the next thousand years is not realistic.

It has long be held by anthropologists that moral standards are not the same in every societies.
It is equally true to say that there is an evolution in moral standards as time goes by.

However absolute scepticism is not a right way of thinking either (and definitely not a pragmatic one for decision-makers). There is one way to prove the wrongness of absolute scepticism. When a theory does apply to the real world in a certain context at a certain point of time, decision-makers take these theories as granted and apply them in their decisions. It's definitely wise to follow a "theory" as long as it is not proven to be wrong. If we deny decision-makers the ability to trust such "unfalsified" theories, then how can we expect that they make any decisions at all? What matters is to remain open-minded and accept counter-evidence even if we don't like it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The death penalty: Justice or revenge?

This is a summary of what I discussed with a friend yesterday-evening.
Is the death penalty morally justified.? Supporters of the death penalty often refer to two things.

1> Punishing a murderer with a death penalty is fair. He deserves to be killed. His death will bring justice and relief to the relatives and friends of the victims.
2> The threat of death penalty is a deterrent. Potential criminals will not commit crimes for fear of being killed themselves. There will be less victims in the future thanks to death penalty.

The second point is the easiest one to discuss. The ethic of justice cannot rely on "fear". This does not mean there should not be no punishment. But relying on the death penalty to deter deadly violence from occuring is a dangerous illusion.
a. The prevention of violence can and should be based on the right understanding of the motives of criminals. Thinking that criminals "cannot be understood" is a statement of moral failure. It's an easy way out.
b. Economic motives, acts of revenge or jealousness are often quoted. Death penalty is powerless in deterring criminal acts when these acts take place in a context of poverty for example.
Do we wish our society to be at peace simply because people are cowards?

The first point is a harsh ethical one. There has been numerous cases where relatives of victims acknowledged that the death of one criminal will not bring justice.
What is justice then?
Justice takes place when the truth is uncovered during the trial.
The truth about... the innocence of the victim.
The truth about... the motives of the murderer.
Justice should also bring hope.
Hope that a communauty can find solutions to prevent another crime from happening. Hope that the causes that led to the crime can be dealt with.

Why is killing a criminal wrong?
The life of a human being is unique. Its value is beyond question. As a human being, a criminal should live to understand the suffering that he has brought to other people. Every human being has the ability to think and learn from mistakes.
The human life that the criminal has destroyed will not be gained back with the death penalty.
However, the society does have the responsability to keep criminals behind bars as long as they are a threat to other people.

Isn't killing a criminal a religious thing? Shouldn't it be the "judgement of God"?
First, the existence of God is not that obvious that we can assume a court is acting "in the name of God".
One thing is sure however. Human beings cannot "play God" by deciding who deserves to die and who doesn't. Human beings have their own limits in understanding a criminal case and in taking the right decision.


Friday, October 22, 2004

Chain of Command - A searing critique of the Bush administration

This a review published this week in the Economist.
Investigative journalism J'accuse
Oct 21st 2004 From The Economist print edition
A searing critique of the Bush administration
Chain of CommandBy Seymour M. HershHarperCollins; 416 pages; $25.95. Penguin/Allen Lane; £17.99Buy it
FOR over three decades, Seymour Hersh has been a pain in the neck to American presidents and he is proving no less of one to George Bush. Mr Hersh's dogged style of investigative journalism has produced brilliant scoops—he revealed the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and this year in the New Yorker he did much to uncover the story of American torture at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. As important, his writing offers a kind of real-time alternative history to the official version of events. His latest book is a blend of articles from the New Yorker since the September 11th attacks along with new material. It makes disturbing reading. Mr Hersh portrays an administration whose top officials are not just duplicitous—a charge which can be laid against plenty of their predecessors—but gravely incompetent, blind to facts they dislike, determined to ignore advice they do not wish to hear and lamentably ignorant about large chunks of the world.
Such criticism that appears in the thick of a presidential campaign is bound to be attacked as biased, or politically motivated. Mr Hersh is not coy about his view that the Bush administration has mishandled both the war on terrorism and the invasion and occupation of Iraq. But the sheer quantity of detail makes the book impossible to dismiss as mere polemic. Mr Hersh's reporting is based on anonymous sources, something the Pentagon pounced on in an extraordinary press release before the book's release. Yet unlike Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, his chief American rival as an investigative journalist, Mr Hersh attributes almost every piece of information to an individual, and he describes that person's position or experience in some way. Mr Woodward's two books covering the same period, “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack”, have plenty of dramatic flourish and recreated conversations, and are certainly entertaining. However, the sober tone of Mr Hersh's book, the careful marshalling of evidence and constant attributions: all lend it an undeniable credibility. What is more, the author spends almost as much time quoting senior officials defending the administration's policy and actions as he does others criticising them. Readers get to hear both sides of the story.
The picture that emerges from this account is perhaps a familiar one: that of a Bush administration as much at war with itself as with al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. Yet Mr Hersh's narrative is less about the battle between the Departments of State and Defence, which has been well charted, than that between the top layer of political appointees at the Pentagon and the White House and the senior and middle-ranking career officials in the military and intelligence services. If Mr Hersh is to be believed, a growing crowd of serving and retired officials despair at the blunders and the opportunities missed by Mr Bush and his closest advisers—in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the rest of al-Qaeda, in efforts at controlling nuclear proliferation, in dealings with Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, and in trying to improve homeland security.
The Bush administration's response to the torture committed by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib illustrates a pattern of behaviour described again and again in Mr Hersh's book (even though only about a fifth of the book actually deals with the story of Abu Ghraib). Soon after September 11th, Mr Bush issued a secret presidential order setting up covert teams of commandos to scour the globe to capture, interrogate and kill terrorists. Such teams were authorised to operate outside the law. Mr Bush later issued an order declaring that any captured al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters would not be deemed prisoners of war covered by the Geneva Conventions, and that in the war on terror he had the right to suspend the conventions whenever he wished. Donald Rumsfeld, Mr Bush's defence secretary, expressed repeated disdain for the conventions.
Teams of lawyers within the government, most of them political appointees, formulated new legal policies that redefined torture as limited to the pain equivalent to “major organ failure or death”. They argued that in any case the president, as the commander-in-chief in the war on terror, could not be bound by international treaties or federal laws forbidding torture. When interrogations of prisoners at Guantánamo yielded little in the way of intelligence, Mr Rumsfeld authorised new, harsher interrogation techniques. The general who developed these techniques was sent to Iraq, to “improve” interrogations there as well, since Iraq's insurgency was growing, and the American forces there had little knowledge of whom they were fighting. Torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib soon became routine.
Before all this became public, repeated complaints about what was happening at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo were made to senior administration officials by the International Red Cross, human-rights groups, a number of CIA and military officers, and even by a group of Pentagon lawyers. When photographs and videos of the torture at Abu Ghraib fell into the hands of Mr Hersh and an American television station last April, Mr Rumsfeld first brushed the issue aside, then professed himself shocked. Mr Bush denied all knowledge and blamed some bad apples.
A few low-level American guards stupid enough to have themselves photographed torturing and humiliating prisoners have been charged. A few dozen others have been reprimanded or discharged. No intelligence officers who conducted the interrogations, nor anyone higher up the chain of command, have been charged. Official investigations have been launched. None has blamed any senior official. Asked about the clear evidence of widespread torture, Mr Bush said simply that “the instructions went out to our people to adhere to the law.” He later declared that “freedom from torture is an inalienable human right” and that the United States “remains steadfastly committed to upholding the Geneva Conventions.”
It is this brazenness which amazes Mr Hersh, a man who has spent a lifetime exposing the deceptions of politicians. And yet even for such a veteran reporter, there is something puzzling, even terrifying, about Mr Bush. When he denies, or just ignores, a fact, is he lying, or does he simply say whatever he finds convenient, and then come to believe it? Mr Hersh asks the question, but he cannot answer it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

BBC report: Iraq nuclear losses 'a scandal'

I think the Bush administration should comment on these missing nuclear items. I just can't believe they didn't take care of these nuclear sites after April 2003! This is just too much irresponsible.
Anyway, here is the BBC article:

Truth and Falsity: Is the world too complex for us?

"What is Truth?". These were the words of Roman governor Pilate when dealing with the "Jesus Christ" case.
Through these words, we understand the question as: "Does a perfect understanding of the world exist?". These are typical questions of a deeply religious person who is already convinced that such a "Truth" exists.
For most other people, we are living in times of uncertainty where our strongest believes are put to the test day after day. If you open up your own dictionary, you would find such a definition for truth: "conformity with facts, agreement with reality". A "true" statement is opposed to a "false" statement. This is quite different from the opposition between "saying the truth" and "saying a lie - being insincere".
For example: "Thailand is north of Malaysia" is true. "Mexico is north of USA" is wrong.
"I am a Martian" is an insincere statement as I cannot honestly believe I am a Martian.
What really matters is the so-called "scientific" approach to determine what is "true" as opposed to what is "wrong".
Let us give another example:
In January 2003, the Bush administration declared that they had enough evidence to conclude that the Saddam Hussein regime had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). This statement is now known to be wrong. Does it mean the Bush administration was lying? They said they didn't lie but did an "honest mistake". In other words, they would have been misled by "faulty evidence".
Saying that someone said something wrong does not always mean he was a lier, it could also mean he didn't have enough solid evidence to find out properly about "the truth". (Wether the Bush administration was aware that their evidence was not perfect is another issue).

So far, things seem to be easy. Let us just adopt a scientific approach in all our casual and formal investigations, and we can all discover the truth about anything. Or is it so?

Monday, October 11, 2004

Justice & Violence

When someone is asking for "justice" against any wrongdoing, most would assume he implies -as a victim - to use violence to satisfy a legitimate thirst for revenge. If he doesn't use violence himself, he will ask the society to do it for him with the death penalty (if necessary).
Similarly, when a country asks for "justice" against another country, other countries often fear that this country really means to start a war.
There is therefore a kind of paradox that peace-loving people (and nations) would fear "justice-loving" people as potential trouble-makers. There would be an opposition between the "cowards" who prefer peace to justice and the "hawks" who prefer justice to peace.

Let us think about awful crimes such as cold-blooded murders & rapes etc.
At the international level, a "just war" is often started when there is an agression, or (more controversially) the risk that an agression takes place.

In each case, those who seeks to use violence (death penalty / war), are doing so in the name of justice. Those who opposes the use of violence are understood to prefer peace to justice.

There are a few problems with this kind of thinking.
First, crimes or international agressions often take place in a context where justice is nowhere to be found. In other words, these crimes and conflicts may be the effects of the lack of justice. By using more violence, the victims will not solve the lack of justice which is the real cause for these wrongdoings.
Second, even though these crimes have been commited without any good reasons to justify them, the use of violence may jeopardize the return of justice. Why?
a. Victims will not feel any better once criminals are killed. The dead won't come back to life.
b. People always have a capacity to be "reasonable persons" and change their previous "evil ways". To deny these people a second chance is not the right thing to do.
c. The use of violence may strike totally innocent people. What comes next when these "new victims" ask for justice? Bertrand Russel used to say that "war does solve problems, but it solves them the wrong way".
Third, justice implies to have a fair trial where the motives of the criminals are well understood. What should come as "justice" is a form of punishment that keeps potential victims safe (by keeping criminals in jail, or "rogue" nations under international pressure) but this punishment must also prepare for peace by seeking to educate the criminals.

There is therefore a constant relationship between peace and justice. A lack of peace brings a lack of justice (violence/war brings injustice). A lack of justice also brings a lack of peace (the more there is injustice, the more violence/war will appear justified).
However, a peaceful environment appears to be sustainable when people acknowledge a rule of law ensuring a sense of justice.

At community level, avoiding violence means having a credible system of laws and enforcement. A system of law must come from a legitimate government with legitimate courts of justice (where judges and lawyers are not corrupt). Off-course, a primary requirement is non-corrupt police force.
At international level, avoiding violence means a credible international system of laws and enforcement to solve conflicts before war is declared. This should be the role of the United Nations.

With the right understanding of this close relationship between injustice and violence, it becomes common sense to say that those asking for justice must stick to non-violence. Non-violence is really relevant in the face of injustice. Non-violence is absolutely the norm in a context of "justice" anyway.

The limits of non-violence are found during a situation where it's a matter of life and death to use violence. Once again this is controversial and depends on each context. Gandhi used to say that practicioners of non-violence must be ready to die without using violence "in the name of justice". What he probably meant is if the use of violence to save our own lives implies putting other innocent people at risk, we should avoid defending ourselves to avoid more injustice to others. This is controversial as our death means we won't be able to protest injustice anymore. Is it ethical to accept to sacrifice our life when we don't deserve to die?

The fear of dying and being harmed is however a primary cause of violence.

To conclude, those who pretends to defend "justice" should abstain to use violence whenever it is possible. Violence is really the mean used by those who accept injustice.